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April 26, 2010

Daft Pseudo-Intellectual Quote of the Day

I've never quite understood why some bloggers revel in pretentious terms like "epistemic closure":

At least insofar as the conservative movement has a larger and more powerful media ecosystem dedicated to advancing a vision of the world that's aligned with the movement's priorities, it would seem that the conditions for epistemic closure are more prevalent in the conservative movement than in the liberal movement. I think that the counterargument some conservatives might offer would be that the New York Times and CBS News are liberal, but anyone arguing that those outlets are partisan or politicized in the way that Limbaugh is partisan and politicized is, well, sort of a walking example of epistemic closure.

I used to think it was because using fancy phraseology makes both the blogger and his readers feel reeeeeeeealy smart.

Lately, though, I'm leaning towards the notion that they operate as a semantic form of sleight of hand wherein readers spend so much time performing the mental translation between toffee nosed abstractions like "epistemic closure" and the more intuitive "echo chamber" that they overlook glaring logical errors like equating opinion based media (talk radio) with purportedly fact based journalism (news reporting). I have to question the notion that it's somehow alarming when purveyors of opinion "advance a vision of the world that's aligned with the(ir) movement's priorities". Isn't persuasion sort of the point when it comes to opinion writing?

On the other hand, conflating punditry and opinion mongering with news reporting may be understandable. After all, the Times confuses the two pretty much every day.

Still, there is something profoundly depressing about watching a political party that professes to be all about tolerance and diversity spend the lion's share of its time not so subtly demonizing the intellectual Other:

Sanchez admirably dismisses "the cheap partisan explanation that conservatism intrinsically appeals to the stupid or closed minded." That's certainly an explanation we should treat with caution. But should it be dismissed out of hand? Open-mindedness to rational inquiry is a political style historically linked with liberalism, and it's usually (though not always) found more often in liberal parties than in conservative or Marxist ones. Certainly, when we consider other countries, we frequently assume that one party is more nationalistic, populist, reactionary, racialist, fronting for powerful economic interests, and so on, and often we associate those parties with simplistic or closed-minded approaches to politics.

Statements like the bolded one above possess a circularity that makes them awfully hard to refute:

We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.

Let's face it - if one accepts the premise that all smart and informed people share certain beliefs, questioning those beliefs places dissenters squarely outside the community of wise and benevolent human beings. This is the great, gaping hole in the liberal world view:

imagine society as a social contract invented for our mutual benefit. All individuals are equal, and all should be left as free as possible to move, develop talents, and form relationships as they please. The patron saint of a contractual society is John Stuart Mill, who wrote (in On Liberty) that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." Mill's vision appeals to many liberals and libertarians; a Millian society at its best would be a peaceful, open, and creative place where diverse individuals respect each other's rights and band together voluntarily (as in Obama's calls for "unity") to help those in need or to change the laws for the common good.

Psychologists have done extensive research on the moral mechanisms that are presupposed in a Millian society, and there are two that appear to be partly innate. First, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to suffering and harm, particularly violent harm, and so nearly all cultures have norms or laws to protect individuals and to encourage care for the most vulnerable. Second, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice. Philosophical efforts to justify liberal democracies and egalitarian social contracts invariably rely heavily on intuitions about fairness and reciprocity.

But now imagine society not as an agreement among individuals but as something that emerged organically over time as people found ways of living together, binding themselves to each other, suppressing each other's selfishness, and punishing the deviants and free-riders who eternally threaten to undermine cooperative groups. The basic social unit is not the individual, it is the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions. Individuals in such societies are born into strong and constraining relationships that profoundly limit their autonomy. The patron saint of this more binding moral system is the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who warned of the dangers of anomie (normlessness), and wrote, in 1897, that "Man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free himself from all social pressure is to abandon himself and demoralize him." A Durkheimian society at its best would be a stable network composed of many nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape, and care for individuals who, if left to their own devices, would pursue shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures. A Durkheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one's groups over concerns for outgroups.

A Durkheimian ethos can't be supported by the two moral foundations that hold up a Millian society (harm/care and fairness/reciprocity). My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). These three systems support moralities that bind people into intensely interdependent groups that work together to reach common goals. Such moralities make it easier for individuals to forget themselves and coalesce temporarily into hives, a process that is thrilling, as anyone who has ever "lost" him or herself in a choir, protest march, or religious ritual can attest.

In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at www.YourMorals.org.) We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.

Think about this for a moment.

A recurring theme in my writing over the years has been that it is quite possible for intelligent and rational people to disagree, and furthermore that such disagreements often result not from having completely different value systems, but from applying different weights to values liberals and conservatives both share.

I see this all the time when discussing politics with my more liberal friends. they can't understand why I won't give 100% of the weight to two elements of the moral spectrum: harm and fairness, and zero to ones they don't share. I fully recognize the value of the elements they find persuasive. I just don't agree that they are the only considerations that matter. The irony here is that their supposedly broad and inclusive (it is, because liberals all say it is) viewpoint is either blind to - or utterly refuses to acknowledge - the other three elements of Haidt's moral universe. The result is cognitive dissonance: the self professed party of tolerance and diversity finds itself defending a narrow and deeply intolerant, Euro-centric world view in which anyone who disagrees is deemed ignorant, stupid, and intolerant.

How's that again? I see the moral world in five dimensions, they see only two and this somehow proves I'm closed minded and live in an echo chamber?

There are none so blind.

Posted by Cassandra at April 26, 2010 08:31 AM

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Comments

Open-mindedness to rational inquiry is a political style historically linked with liberalism, and it's usually (though not always) found more often in liberal parties than in conservative or Marxist ones.

There's a world of philosophical difference between "historical liberalism" and those who call themselves "liberals" today. The proper term for today's libs is "Marxist."

"Liberal" iust another term the "progressives" hijacked and defined to their own satisfaction -- and the term "progressive people" was coined by Georgy Malenkov, in praise of Stalin.

Posted by: BillT at April 26, 2010 11:44 AM

Open-mindedness to rational inquiry is a political style historically linked with liberalism...

I find this kind of statement so funny. When I was taking Russian in college, there was an amusing colloquialism that kept cropping up in my reading of Russian media:

..as is well known to all...

Compelling proof there. If "everyone" (or "all smart/educated people) know(s) a thing, it must be so true that we don't need to prove it! After all, if you weren't such an dumb ignoranus, you'd agree with me!

Funny to see how often variants of that statement are used to justify the notion that liberals are far too smart to fall for the echo chamber-ish rhetoric that so often characterizes conservative discourse...

Whatever :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 26, 2010 11:54 AM


Liberals forget that ordinary people are surprisingly adept at distinguishing Opinion from Fact. That's why nobody confuses Rush with Walter Cronkite - one speaks Opinion, the other spoke Fact.

The media increasingly lands in the Opinion column, even when claiming to be delivering straight News, which ordinary people also can distinguish and which explains plummeting circulation and revenues for those claiming to deliver Fact but actually delivering Opinion.

Nobody likes a bait-and-switch artist.

.

Posted by: joe doakes at April 26, 2010 12:44 PM

Cass, interesting point... I've had a few interactions with Russian culture also. And when you start digging into it, you start to realize that Russian culture isn't all that far removed from the barbarian days. (And the Russians know this, and they are very self-conscious about it.)

The type of liberal described in Mill is the type we would today label the "classical liberal". In today's political landscape, classical liberals are off in the weeds. They were of course very influential on America's formation and structure and their thinking pretty much shaped America from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Unfortunately, starting about 1890 (in the U.S.; earlier in Europe), the classical liberals began to be pwned by Marxists. For the next century, classical liberals were used by Marxists as human shields. We're now seeing the end-game of that: the Marxists have decided that they no longer need the cover, and the classical liberals, having unwittingly served the cause of Marxism for so long, are now being discarded. Meanwhile, conservatism (in the Buckley sense) is data-mining classical liberalism and appropriating most of its best bits -- hence libertarianism.

The real dichotomy, in terms of this discussion, is within the conservative camp. It's the contrast between the libertarians who emphasize the Mill values, and the social conservatives who emphasize the Durkheim ones. (It's actually not so clear-cut on the authority/respect one.) Since Marxism discards the notion of systems of morality, you can't fit it into either one. To the extent that Marxists have succeeded in convincing anyone that they conform to the Mill values, it's only because they have been so successful at using classical liberalism as a facade. When you dig into it, you find that they only fit the definition by means of redefining the language: "harm" and "care" are redefined to "shame" and "obedience" respectively, and "reciprocity" is redefined in the Marxist sense of "from each according to his ability" etc. (I'll leave "fairness" along since the meaning of that word is so vague even in conventional usage.) In fact, Marxism winds up looking like something with most of the bad points of a Durkheimian society, and none of the good parts.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at April 26, 2010 01:00 PM

The real dichotomy, in terms of this discussion, is within the conservative camp. It's the contrast between the libertarians who emphasize the Mill values, and the social conservatives who emphasize the Durkheim ones.

BINGO. This is why I have so often said that we need to define what we mean by "conservatism". I am definitely more of a Durkheimian in that I believe human societies (much like the market) evolve and adapt to real world conditions. In the market, these conditions include scarcity, demand, underlying costs, human valuation systems. They don't "go away" because we find them unacceptable - that's why price controls don't work. Arbitrary price ceilings don't change the underlying forces that cause prices to rise and fall.

The same is true of human mores and societal pressures. I have a major problem with libertarians because so many of their prescriptions seem to have been created in a vacuum that ignores human nature. But ignoring a thing doesn't make it go away.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 26, 2010 01:26 PM

The same is true of human mores and societal pressures. I have a major problem with libertarians because so many of their prescriptions seem to have been created in a vacuum that ignores human nature.

Marxism is often faulted for ignoring by human nature people are greedy selfish bastards.
Libertarianism is similarly flawed for ignoring the human nature that people are petty tribalistic tyrants.

It is human nature to get mad at your neighbor because his lack of grass cutting is hurting your home's market price. It doesn't matter that you have no right to determine the height of his grass nor any right to a given value of your home, a proposal for forming a HoA will follow shortly. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 26, 2010 01:48 PM

You are aware that the term 'epistemic closure' started last week with Jim Manzi's trashing of Mark Levin's book, Liberty and Tyranny, over at the corner.

link:
http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OTMzMTY2ZmU2ZGY1YzQ3N2Q0MWY4M2M4OTMyZGRjMjY=

Ever since then, lib-blogs have been enjoying the spectacle of watching the usual suspects of the wingnutosphere "debate" the topic of the closing of the conservative mind.

Good stuff on the five dimensional universe. I'll have to read up on that.

Posted by: Craig at April 26, 2010 02:01 PM

You are aware that the term 'epistemic closure' started last week with Jim Manzi's trashing of Mark Levin's book, Liberty and Tyranny, over at the corner.

Yes, that's why I didn't say "why some LIBERAL bloggers...".

And it's also why I find your use of tolerant terms like "wingnutosphere" so amusing.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 26, 2010 02:11 PM

That's why nobody confuses Rush with Walter Cronkite - one speaks Opinion, the other spoke Fact.

Limbaugh's no stranger to Fact, and Uncle Walter was notorious for injecting his personal opinions into his reports. He never *did* apologize for continually repeating, "They finally did it. Right wing extremists have murdered our president" in the first few hours after the Kennedy assassination.

Posted by: BillT at April 26, 2010 02:58 PM

Libertarianism is similarly flawed for ignoring the human nature that people are petty tribalistic tyrants.

I for one, do not ignore it. I just find it reprehensible to treat all law abiding citizens as barbarians only barely held in check, waiting for the first opportunity to devolve into madness.

Allow me to illustrate. In the State of Virgina, they commonly hold random traffic stops. You'll pull off the interstate (having reached your destination, or stopping to get a bite to eat, or what have you) and when you pull onto the exit ramp, there's the State Police waving drivers to the sides of the road. They don't stop everyone, just enough so there's one cop per car. Once they're all full, they wave the rest through until the next cop is free to check someone else out.

So you pull off the side of the road, and you are challenged for your license and registration (both eminently reasonable requests in and of themselves). Why? It gives them an opportunity to determine if you're intoxicated. If your papers are in order, and you don't seem to be under the influence or otherwise suspicious, you are sent on your way. So why is this a problem? Because they have no real justification for pulling you off the road in the first place. You are under suspicion for no particular crime, you just happen to be on the public road at a moment where they have an opportunity to stop you.

As social harms go, this one is minor. But at another level, it's a creeping form of control that we never even think about. WHY are innocent drivers pulled off the road? Because some of them might not be? How is this any better than being stopped walking down the street and being subject to a personal search? The sidewalk is public property just like the road. Your car is personal property just like your clothing. Why is it appropriate for the State (acting through the State Patrol to assume wrongdoing on your part and subject you to a cursory search.

Yes there are bad people out there. And I think they should be punished FAR more severely for breaking society's rules than they currently are. But I object heartily to treating the average citizen as a criminal who simply hasn't been caught yet.

In theory, I am all about Arizona's new law. The US borders are protected in the sense that a WalMart greeter is a policeman. But I am leery of having the police simply stop any individual they "suspect" of being in the country illegally and demanding identification. Now, my understanding is that the intent of the law is to allow law enforcement to demand ID from anyone they stop in the course of a police investigation but that's not how the law is written. I'd certainly comply with the current law (I'm not a nutjob who thinks that if I believe the law is not justified that it somehow makes it ok for me to violate it), but I think it ought to be rewritten to require the police to check ID in the execution of some other investigation.

Posted by: MikeD at April 26, 2010 03:25 PM

Cass, I'm more of a Mill guy myself, as you've probably guessed. But I've also said (not in these exact words, of course) that the libertarian who ignores the Durkheim considerations is a fool. It's quite clear that early civilization derived from extended-family structures -- that's what tribalism was/is. Just don't overlook the fact that Europe was and still is quite tribalist, and that that's the sort of thing our ancestors came to America to get away from.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at April 26, 2010 03:27 PM

"I've never quite understood why some bloggers revel in pretentious terms like "epistemic closure""

Goethe, speaking as Mephistopheles:

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy"

Posted by: david foster at April 26, 2010 03:28 PM

Actually, leftist critiques of capitalism, and of industrial society itself, have often drawn on the Durkheimian concept of anomie. All the talk about "community" in present-day "progressive" circles also have a Durkheimian ring to it.

Posted by: david foster at April 26, 2010 03:43 PM

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy"

Which gives us such present-day aberrations as "post-normal science," in which there is nothing known to science except the consensus of the community -- and if the community fails to reach a consensus, or if the consensus goes against the intuition of the "scientist," then the "scientist" must manipulate the data until he achieves the proper consensus or flat out lie and declare that the consensus is in his favor.

And "progressives" can't comprehend why that is wrong.

Posted by: BillT at April 26, 2010 04:09 PM

Just don't overlook the fact that Europe was and still is quite tribalist, and that that's the sort of thing our ancestors came to America to get away from.

True. On the otter heiny the libertarian vision for America bears little or no resemblance to the first 200 or so years of American history.

It has long seemed to me that both libertarians and conservatives invoke a rosy Golden Age of Freedom where supposedly people were all free to do whatever the heck they wanted to, free from oppressive laws or the misguided opprobrium of jackbooted moralizing Christianists. I've never been able to figure out when this mostly free past existed... :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 26, 2010 04:25 PM

I just find it reprehensible...

And the communists found being a greedy selfish bastard reprehensible, too. And so they structured society such that you couldn't be one. We see how well that turned out.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 26, 2010 04:33 PM

Well, actually you *could* be a greedy, selfish bastard under Communism, but you had to be a member of the Central Committee to do it...

Posted by: BillT at April 26, 2010 04:58 PM

There were days in collecting the philosophy minor that I thought that everything there since Heraclitus the Riddler was sophomoric babble. Lao Tzu is very good. John Locke is good, but wordy. Humans talk a great deal, and we don't progress much. Words are rarely progress. To a certain extent, it depends on what's being conserved. At least a decade ago, referring to my tendency to want to return to the time just after the tea hit the harbour, I was told to style myself online as "The Tea-Tossing Liberal".

Posted by: htom at April 26, 2010 05:12 PM

Bill,
I said you couldn't be one. Didn't say anything about *me* not being one. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 26, 2010 05:44 PM

"Well, actually you *could* be a greedy, selfish bastard under Communism, but you had to be a member of the Central Committee to do it..."

Benjamin Franklin observed that it's very very dangerous to set up a system where the pursuit of *money* and the pursuit of *power* are too tightly intertwined. Obama-ism doesn't just intertwine them; it welds them together.

Posted by: david foster at April 26, 2010 06:08 PM

I said you couldn't be one.

Exclusioniiiiiiist!

Posted by: BillT at April 26, 2010 06:11 PM

I keep waiting for any of these "intellectuals" to look up epistemic closure to find out what the phrase might mean. I'm going to award the prize for 'openmindedness-to-new-ideas' to the first side that realizes and admits that they've been using it way totally detached from its actual meaning.

For a week. And counting.

Posted by: Grim at April 26, 2010 09:49 PM

But Grim -- using it to mean something that it doesn't mean is a new idea!

Okay, so it's about a 200-year old idea, but it's new to *them*...

Posted by: BillT at April 27, 2010 12:15 AM

You know, I think Calvin once expounded on that subject. It's a good point.

Posted by: Grim at April 27, 2010 10:13 AM

Hah. And here I thought you were going to link to a discussion on predestination.

Posted by: BillT at April 27, 2010 12:51 PM

Cass, I wish to ever-so-slightly dispute your last statement. There was a previous age in America's history where we were more free than we are now. I wouldn't term it a Golden Age since this consisted largely of the freedom to go off into the wilderness and either work like hell to survive, or die of starvation or bear attack or general unavailability of medical attention. Would I want to back to that time? Absolutely not. I like eating meat without trichinosis, and having heat and A/C at the push of a button, and not having to worry about smallpox. One of those little benefits of living in a reasonably orderly society. But...

Lack of elbow room always poses constraints to freedom. There's lots of data on what happens to social interactions when you cram people into ultra-high-density housing. To me, one of the most important freedoms is the freedom to get the hell away from other people every now and then. We seem to be creating a society where it forces us to constantly interact with other people in order to do anything. America has no frontier anymore, and I worry about that.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at April 27, 2010 09:23 PM

I see your point Dave. I hope you won't mind my saying that women certainly weren't more free in the past. It wasn't even legal for us to use birth control in most jurisdictions and married women weren't allowed to own property in their own right. We couldn't even vote.

I agree with you about elbow room, but then I've also said many time that crowding leads to more laws since our actions impact others more in a crowded (or interconnected) world.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 27, 2010 09:33 PM

Cass, I wish to ever-so-slightly dispute your last statement.

You can even not-so-slightly dispute it - I always enjoy your comments :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 27, 2010 09:37 PM

Surely it is possible, Cass, to aspire to both the traditional liberties and also the untraditional ones: both to restoring something of the lost freedoms, and protecting the new ones? I very much desire a less intrusive state; but I will gladly pledge my service to ensuring that women's liberty is not lost in the cause.

Posted by: Grim at April 27, 2010 10:35 PM

I don't know whether it is possible or not, Grim.

This is a thing that greatly troubles me. Freedom for women owes very much TO what you call government intrusion. As much as I'd like to believe that people will do the right thing when they don't have to, my experience says otherwise.

I can remember not being able to live with my husband b/c every time I applied for a job, employers asked me about child care.

My husband had a baby too.

No one asked HIM who would be "watching the baby for you". Not even once.

I don't go on and on about it b/c I don't want to hear the usual crap about feminism destroying the planet but I honestly don't think a lot of men have the slightest clue what it used to be like. The climate is so different these days. Things women had to put up with on a daily basis are almost unthinkable now.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 27, 2010 10:45 PM

Roger that.

It's a point that has been bothering me too, as a matter of fact. I really do want to cut the state's influence to a very bare minimum. I very much don't want the state in any way involved in meddling in what I view as internal matters that ought to belong to the family: how children are brought up, for example.

Yet I know some women I respect who say: "We need the state to be able to rip your family apart. If it can't, then it can't rip apart the family that is abusing children; it can't stop the husband from abusing his wife."

It seems like there has to be a way of cracking that nut, without giving our lives up to the state. Maybe there are a lot of ways of approaching the problem, and we can get a little out of each of them -- but between them, build a solution that would make it work. It's something I'd like to ask you to think more about, though, from the perspective of trying to find solutions.

The concerns of these women, and your own concerns, are not trival to me. I do want to strictly limit the influence of the state; but your lives, and your happiness, also matter to me.

Posted by: Grim at April 27, 2010 10:53 PM

It's worth considering, too, what Elise sometimes calls 'the Stupak problem.' If women's groups can't stop the Stupak amendment, why think that women will be able to turn the state away from other intrusions on your newly-won liberties, if those intrusions become popular?

We ought to try to balance powers, so that there are checks on powers we cannot trust. Perhaps there are powers we can trust. I trust my own right arm, good steel, my wife, and a few friends. Perhaps you have a similar list; and we might safely concentrate power there. Elsewhere, we need to be most cautious in considering how to check and balance the powers we grant.

Posted by: Grim at April 27, 2010 11:18 PM

Grim, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

There were plenty of men with "good right arms" back in the day. That didn't help women much, though.

I don't think there's any "safe" place to concentrate power. I think it makes more sense to balance power so people have the ability to obtain justice. That may be a good bit less than either men or women want, but I think it's the right answer.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 27, 2010 11:27 PM

Well, surely you don't mean to say that it's even money; if it were only that, we could dispense with the state, which was doing no better and no worse than the older system.

But we're not talking about you trusting my strong right arm; or your husband's; or any man's. We're talking about you trusting yours.

In the age of firearms, your arm is as strong as mine, if you want it to be.

The argument is that women need a state powerful enough to rip apart families in order to protect them against their husband's power; or powerful enough to punish corporations to protect them from corporate discrimination.

From my perspective -- were I looking for a way to protect my own interests, I mean -- the state is useless in both regards. I can't trust it to protect my interests in either case: it may decide to work against my interests in favor of what more powerful interest groups demand (the Stupak problem) or simply wealthier groups demand (the corporate problem). Why would it care about me? Even if it did, what guarantee is there it would continue to care about me?

What seems right to me is not that women can trust the men in their lives; it's wonderful when you find any other person you can trust, male or female, but that's luck as much as anything. What seems right to me is that, necessarily, women should be able to trust themselves to defend their own interests -- in much the same way that I trust myself to do so, or men in general can trust themselves to do so.

What seems right to me is that we ought to look for ways to empower individual women, not to empower the state to serve as a counterbalance between women and (say) their husbands or (say) their employers. The second approach is wrong in the one sense in that it continues to view women as natural victims, who necessarily require special protection in order to enjoy "rights" that are only "rights" in the sense of being granted and guaranteed by these protectors; and wrong in the sense that you can't really trust that those you are entrusting with power will actually enforce those rights.

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 12:25 AM

The second approach is wrong in the one sense in that it continues to view women as natural victims, who necessarily require special protection in order to enjoy "rights" that are only "rights" in the sense of being granted and guaranteed by these protectors; and wrong in the sense that you can't really trust that those you are entrusting with power will actually enforce those rights.

You sound as though you want to do away with the social compact, Grim, but what are you going to put in its place?

Violence against employers who don't respect your rights? The very reason we HAVE a social contract is that we're trying to avoid the need to resolve every dispute by force if negotiations break down.

So I don't shoot that jerk of an employer, or the business that commits fraud. I take them to court.

You act as though only government power can be abused but the truth is that ANY power can be abused. Once you get rid of government, who protects me against the man or woman who abuses power?

Guns aren't the equalizer you seem to think they are. Your system ensures that the most ruthless (or the one who minds killing the least) wins. But guns aren't a great vehicle for determining who has the right of an argument. They are right handy when all else fails, but they don't make a great first resort.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2010 01:06 AM

"It seems like there has to be a way of cracking that nut, without giving our lives up to the state. "

The justification used to take away free will from the family members is that the family members are either 1. criminals 2. minors or 3. without free will or with coerced free will.

Simply upgrade the abused women's ability to take care of things themselves, and you no longer have the government, any government, with a legitimacy in saying that there is a power imbalance of such magnitude that they need to step in for the "good" of those involved.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 08:40 AM

It is simply a matter of power and vacuums, Grim. If you don't want to learn how to use the tool of violence, if you don't want to know how to shoot, the government will take care of such necessities for you. The need for them remains the same, but you personally don't need to take care of it. The government will, should you abdicate your power.

The same is true of the family situation. Back in the past, kings sometimes had problems with nobles and their clans, because the power balance was almost near equal on occasions. Then nobles lost their feudal levies and armies became King's Own or national armies.

Now we are to the point where government even has control over individual families, including their extended clan. That's because the power balance has been increasingly getting sucked up by centralized government. Individuals have lost much in return for prosperity and social conformity. Most have been worth it, in order to avoid War of the Roses, hatfield vs McCoy type issues.

However, the imbalance of power should not be ignored. Whenever there is an imbalance of power to this degree, it is only going to get worse. And injustice is guaranteed to happen no matter who does what.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 08:43 AM

"In the age of firearms, your arm is as strong as mine, if you want it to be."

I do not believe in the cult of the gun, Grim. Which means that I do not firearms are the answer to psychological insecurities or simply lack of knowledge on the part of women.

A gun is only a tool. If the person doesn't or won't use it, then it is just a lump piece of metal and plastic.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 08:45 AM

You sound as though you want to do away with the social compact, Grim, but what are you going to put in its place?

The social compact is only between people with power and those people who are willingly to negotiate for something they want but can't get alone.

The government necessarily becomes a third party, but often they are only there because negotiations have failed between two individuals and instead of parting company, one side or the other stays to conquer using force. The government then intercedes on the justification that an individual right is being violated. Whether the woman's or the child's.

The government is restrained by the law, but a single individual that disagrees with the government is in the same position as a woman would be against an abusive husband. She can only operate under the constrained conditions her husband gives her. She would have to overpower, as Grim suggested, her husband. A person that the government has interceded on behalf of, would have to overpower the government to change the negotiation/power balance. Otherwise, the government is bound by law only, not human interest.

The body of law, however, isn't something a single individual can negotiate over with another single individual. In the courts, people involve lawyers and judges. With the government itself, especially a bureaucratic agency, there is no negotiation, thus no social compact.

You act as though only government power can be abused but the truth is that ANY power can be abused.

There is something special with government power. It's very overwhelming, for example. More overwhelming than a single individual you cannot beat using force. Even more overwhelming than a mafia or a clan of individuals out for your blood.

A mafia or a clan, for example, can theoretically be cowed or assassinated to death. Once they lose all their members, the organization is gone. It may not be practical, but because the organization has a finite number of people willingly to perpetuate it, it can be done. The government either composes too many people or the simple fact that even if one eliminates the current government, another government springs up to take its place. So even if one eliminated everybody the government could count on to continue itself, there would just be another government.

I think that makes the case that government power is special in its overwhelming qualities.

In terms of graphs, a husband may have 100 pts of power, the woman 10, and the child 1. The government, however, would be at around either a million or a trillion, depending on what's actually happening. (Elian Gonzalez type situations vs WACO vs SWAT no knock raids on the wrong address vs child custody vs alimony).

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 09:05 AM

It is an interesting case on how the state and the body of law affected the initial imbalance of power between men and women here in the US.

Using The Subjection of Women by JS Mill, he made the argument, at the time when laws still constrained various issues concerning property and voting concerning women, that women are as capable as men in such circumstances but that no proof is available precisely because the men who control the law won't allow women to demonstrate whether they will fail or succeed.

That was Mill's argument designed to appeal to a certain type of person in the US. I'm sure he had others arguments, like the fact that his wife was capable and what he suspected many women would be capable of if they had the opportunity to demonstrate their capability, but using that argument wouldn't convince many people back then. Personal testimony was more of a product of Western culture's over-emphasis on individual judgment contrary to traditional requirements.

People back then were more conservative and needed a positive reason why something should be changed. The arguments viable now a days that things need to be changed because "disasters" would happen, is a machine political gambit.

This calls into question whether government and its law interceded on the behalf of women or whether government and law was actually blocking the natural disposition of capable and competent women. Creating the opinion that because women aren't educated, they can never be educated. Creating the popular opinion that because they don't see any women controlling finance on the nation or state level, that women cannot be trusted with funds at all or property.

Once government restrictions of a certain type were removed, (or even on the frontier when they never had existed in the first place) we saw great leaps in the individual capability of those that took the opportunity of greater growth and prospects.

At the time, government interceded on behalf of women because women were taught to be incapable of taking care of themselves without a man. So the government took care to ensure that women's affairs were mostly controlled by their men, for the benefit of the women. Now a days, it is not so much different. Except the government wishes to intercede with bureaucracy (at best) or police forces at worst.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 09:23 AM

You sound as though you want to do away with the social compact, Grim, but...

I don't mean to sound that way. I am merely laying out something axiomatic: one cannot trust the government in the same way that one can trust oneself. Thus, it makes sense to maximize power in your own hands. I would think this was true for women as well as for men (e.g., for me). Insofar as women look to the state as their protector, they are in greater danger than if they are able to protect themselves.

The reason I asked about this at all was that I wanted to explore ways of reducing state intrusion without harming the interests of women. I am willing for the state to have certain powers. All I want is to explore ways in which we could reduce those powers without putting women's legitimate interests at risk.

For example, about employers: to some degree, the state might serve a legitimate function as a counterbalance between you and your employer. However, in that case, it also has the power to step in and force you to employ people on terms that you find unacceptable. This very issue seems to be at the root of the Greek collapse: their tax base shrank continually because fewer and fewer people were willing to start businesses and thereby expose themselves.

The solution might be to use the state instead to encourage small business ownership, where such intrusion could be minimized. There are places where, due to economies of scale, such businesses are impractical. However, there are also places where they are impractical only because of government regulations.

If you wanted to start a small business providing milk to your local grocery, for example, you probably couldn't. This would have been a very traditional way for women in the country to make some money, but it is now totally impossible for an individual to do. It's not just health regulations at work, but also regulations about the type and form of machinery you must buy, the requirement to provide a parking space for the inspector who might drop by once in a while, and a host of other things that are really designed to raise the cost of entry to the market.

So, now if you want to work on a dairy, you have to do so as an employee of a corporation that might exploit you. If we could rebalance toward the small farmer -- cutting the foolish regulations, perhaps providing small business loans to help overcome the cost of such health regulations that we do need to require -- we could set those employees free; and then the state doesn't have to be so powerful.

In that case, we continue to use the state -- but we reduce its size and regulatory authority substantially. The social compact isn't being done away with; but we're relocating power away from the state and the corporations, and toward the individual farmer or family.

What I'd like to do is explore other ways in which women specifically might be empowered as individual women, so that they could rely on and provide for themselves. That seems like a wise move for women to want to make, to minimize the dangers of the Stupak problem. My issue is that the state is too powerful; but in tackling that issue, I want to make sure I'm not endangering the things that you care about too.

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 09:30 AM

It is not, therefore, on this part of the subject, that the question is likely to be asked, Cui bono. We may be told that the evil would outweigh the good, but the reality of the good admits of no dispute. In regard, however, to the larger question, the removal of women's disabilities — their recognition as the equals of men in all that belongs to citizenship — the opening to them of all honourable employments, and of the training and education which qualifies for those employments — there are many persons for whom it is not enough that the inequality has no just or legitimate defence; they require to be told what express advantage would be obtained by abolishing it.

To which let me first answer, the advantage of having the most universal and pervading of all human relations regulated by justice instead of injustice. The vast amount of this gain to human nature, it is hardly possible, by any explanation or illustration, to place in a stronger light than it is placed by the bare statement, to anyone who attaches a moral meaning to words. All the selfish propensities, the self-worship, the unjust self-preference, which exist among mankind, have their source and root in, and derive their principal nourishment from, the present constitution of the relation between men and women. Think what it is to a boy, to grow up to manhood in the belief that without any merit or any exertion of his own, though he may be the most frivolous and empty or the most ignorant and stolid of mankind, by the mere fact of being born a male he is by right the superior of all and every one of an entire half of the human race: including probably some whose real superiority to himself he has daily or hourly occasion to feel; but even if in his whole conduct he habitually follows a woman's guidance, still, if he is a fool, she thinks that of course she is not, and cannot be, equal in ability and judgment to himself; and if he is not a fool, he does worse — he sees that she is superior to him, and believes that, notwithstanding her superiority, he is entitled to command and she is bound to obey. What must be the effect on his character, of this lesson? And men of the cultivated classes are often not aware how deeply it sinks into the immense majority of male minds. For, among right-feeling and wellbred people, the inequality is kept as much as possible out of sight; above all, out of sight of the children. As much obedience is required from boys to their mother as to their father: they are not permitted to domineer over their sisters, nor are they accustomed to see these postponed to them, but the contrary; the compensations of the chivalrous feeling being made prominent, while the servitude which requires them is kept in the background. Well brought-up youths in the higher classes thus often escape the bad influences of the situation in their early years, and only experience them when, arrived at manhood, they fall under the dominion of facts as they really exist. Such people are little aware, when a boy is differently brought up, how early the notion of his inherent superiority to a girl arises in his mind; how it grows with his growth and strengthens with his strength; how it is inoculated by one schoolboy upon another; how early the youth thinks himself superior to his mother, owing her perhaps forbearance, but no-real respect; ana how sublime and sultan-like a sense of superiority he feels, above all, over the woman whom he honours by admitting her to a partnership of his life. Is it imagined that all this does not pervert the whole manner of existence of the man, both as an individual and as a social being? It is an exact parallel to the feeling of a hereditary king that he is excellent above others by being born a king, or a noble by being born a noble. The relation between husband and wife is very like that between lord and vassal, except that the wife is held to more unlimited obedience than the vassal was. However the vassal's character may have been affected, for better and for worse, by his subordination, who can help seeing that the lord's was affected greatly for the worse? whether he was led to believe that his vassals were really superior to himself, or to feel that he was placed in command over people as good as himself, for no merits or labours of his own, but merely for having, as Figaro says, taken the trouble to be born. The self-worship of the monarch, or of the feudal superior, is matched by the self-worship of the male. Human beings do not grow up from childhood in the possession of unearned distinctions, without pluming themselves upon them. Those whom privileges not acquired by their merit, and which they feel to be disproportioned to it, inspire with additional humility, are always the few, and the best few. The rest are only inspired with pride, and the worst sort of pride, that which values itself upon accidental advantages, not of its own achieving. Above all, when the feeling of being raised above the whole of the other sex is combined with personal authority over one individual among them; the situation, if a school of conscientious and affectionate forbearance to those whose strongest points of character are conscience and affection, is to men of another quality a regularly constituted academy or gymnasium for training them in arrogance and overbearingness; which vices, if curbed by the certainty of resistance in their intercourse with other men, their equals, break out towards all who are in a position to be obliged to tolerate them, and often revenge themselves upon the unfortunate wife for the involuntary restraint which they are obliged to submit to elsewhere.-JS M

Islam, for some reason, didn't take this guy's advice. I wonder why.

Also, there's a problem with freeing people up. It makes them harder to control. They no longer do what they are told. They start thinking for themselves, about how to best achieve their own goals in life, instead of letting somebody else decide for them.

That is a serious, serious, problem.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 09:49 AM

There's a lot of value in Mill. His theory of naming is an important one in the philosophy of language (since we started with philosophy, here); and his scientific method criterion of falsification is one I subscribe to myself.

On the other hand, utilitarianism is wrong from stem to stern. You can't possibly do what he says we ought to do, because the theory requires you to make judgments based on what are fundamentally unknowable future consequences of present actions. Even leaving aside the horrid things that utilitarian philosophies end up advocating, that basic logical flaw makes it an incoherent approach.

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 10:02 AM

Even leaving aside the horrid things that utilitarian philosophies end up advocating, that basic logical flaw makes it an incoherent approach.

I wouldn't say his arguments presented in that case there, were utilitarian. Or rather, the ultimate end goal (the good) was based upon individual virtue and character (Aristotelian).

While Aristotle makes the a priori premise argument that happiness is an ultimate good, thus any personal attempt to maximize one's self in order to produce happiness is a good and virtuous action, Mill makes the case that maximizing of one's individual potential makes one better.

The end result then isn't happiness, but an increase in standard of living. Similar, but not the same. However, it is not the case of utilitarianism where some may have proposed a permanent increase in human living conditions (Utopia). Nor is it a case where the epistemology cannot adequately forsee eventual ends (unintended consequences) due to the sacrifice of a few. In fact, Mill does not warrant the sacrifice of any for the greater good, because it is not necessary. Similar to virtue theory. Virtue theory does not, in fact, need people to become evil in order for others to become happy or virtuous.


Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 10:11 AM

You can't possibly do what he says we ought to do, because the theory requires you to make judgments based on what are fundamentally unknowable future consequences of present actions.

That depends on what we are talking about predicting, and it also depends upon what present actions we are taking.

Some present actions have knowable futures. Others do not. The limit of knowledge in this case depends upon human nature and the specific context of the situation. Even if we discount the individual variation that some people know some things that the rest of us cannot know (because of relative perspective and experience), there is still the issue of how far in the future we are talking about.

If we limit the scale to first order connections, say direct causality between one event and its direct consequence, we can say that a knife has penetrated an organ, with a corollary third order consequence of the death of a person, with a fourth order consequence of a potential for inter-clan or international warfare.

The ability of human knowledge to say that they can know this is true, is not so much limited by future ramifications but by how close or far in the future we are speaking.

Because you haven't said what you think he said "we ought to do", this is a matter of a lack of clarity and specificity.

In the case of what you say is fundamental unknowable, what then would be fundamental?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 10:17 AM

Virtue ethics is a wonderful thing, but it isn't Mill's ethical model. In fact, his model -- utilitarianism -- is one of the two chief competitors in ethics today. The other is deontology (duty-based ethics).

That's not to say that utilitarianism has no use for virtue, or that virtue has no need for duty! As Eric was pointing out the other day, the Stoics had some general virtue-based principles that were very compatible with one taking on particular duties. The difference is, in a proper deontology (like Kant's), the duties are universal and necessary: you may have some latitude in how you fill them, but everyone has the same duties. In a virtue ethic, the very fact that we are free to have different kinds of duties is a critical factor.

Now, you said that Aristotle is pointing to some a priori principle of happiness, whereas Mill is talking about potentials. I think that you'll want to reconsider what Aristotle meant by happiness -- the word translated as "happiness" is eudaimonia. Some prefer that it be translated as "flourishing," which is better in some ways; but the idea is that there is a kind of joy in being able to use all your vital powers fully. With that understanding, Mill's reading here is closer to Aristotle's than you might have realized.

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 10:24 AM

You might also want to read section 2.2 here, which will be helpful.

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 10:27 AM

With that understanding, Mill's reading here is closer to Aristotle's than you might have realized.

My original intent was to actually make that point. I don't think I phrased the comparison adequately to communicate that point, though.

I still don't know what you mean by this, however.

ou can't possibly do what he says we ought to do, because the theory requires you to make judgments based on what are fundamentally unknowable future consequences of present actions.

The article itself simply juxtaposes Mill's utilitarian arguments for law and social reform against Mill's epistemology of knowing what is or is not true about human beings.

I'm not sure I am convinced by that argument on its face. Simply because from reading his work, what is called his primary work spelling out Mill's philosophy, he makes utilitarian arguments only in so far as it is useful to convince other men that he is right. While there may be other reasons, they seem very secondary or tertiary to his primary goal of reforming society and the inhibitions that come from law.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 10:38 AM

I divided Aristotle against Mill concerning the utilitarianism issue. But it matters by what is meant by utilitarianism. There are various different ones, last time I checked. And it matters which one we are applying to Mill here.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 10:45 AM

Ah.

Well, the basic idea with utilitarian ethics is that you should act in the way that will maximize happiness.

So, the first question is: what do you mean by happiness? This is why it is important to understand just what is meant by "happiness," and why Mill is closer to Aristotle than most utilitarians, who are just hedonists.

The next question is: whose happiness? If you tell me that I'm to act in a way that maximizes my own happiness, you're not really establishing a useful standard. I was probably going to do that anyway, especially if by 'happiness' you mean merely 'pleasure' as most utilitarians do; so why bother with ethics?

So the reply to that is: no, we don't mean just your happiness. We mean total happiness, for everyone; or at least, for everyone you impact more or less directly.

Fine. Now, the third question: how do I calculate that? If I'm to base my actions off of it, I need to have some way of knowing how to measure the happiness I'm creating or destroying: and not just for me, but for at least everyone I directly impact.

So, should I build a gazebo for summer picnics? Well, it would make me happy; and it would make my family happy; and it would make the workman happy who was hired to help build it. On the other hand, it might annoy my neighbors, by obstructing their view of the lake; and lakegoers unhappy, obstructing their view of the hills.

So, now I need to know how to balance the future happiness of all those in whom I am creating happiness v. the future unhappiness of all those who will be negatively impacted. My neighbors I can sort-of calculate, by getting a feel for them; but what about the people pleasure-sailing on the lake? I don't even know who they are; or how many of them there will be; or how much their happiness will really be impacted.

So, actually, it turns out that I can't calculate it at all. I'm supposed to decide my actions based on a calculus that is impossible to perform. So utilitarians go back to the drawing board, and come up with ever more complicated ways of approaching the problem; but a hundred and fifty years on, I'm not aware of any that really solves the issue. The fact is that you're being asked to set your moral standards according to things you can't know; and that means that you can't know if you're acting in the moral way or not. As an ethics is meant to give you a moral standard to guide your actions, that makes this whole school of thought problematic.

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 10:53 AM

That's a good summary. Many utilitarian schools focused on pleasure from what I read. That's why the term "happiness" didn't seem to jibe with utilitarianism in this context, although what they said about Mill's higher pleasures (the sublime, the beautiful, or the intellectual) would change things.

So, actually, it turns out that I can't calculate it at all. I'm supposed to decide my actions based on a calculus that is impossible to perform.

Now that we have a general description to use as comparison. How would you analyze Mill's The Subjection of Women in this context?

As I see it, he ended up using many arguments as to why this would benefit men and women (his reforms) as a way to convince people that they had a self-interest to do it. That simply the limitation of freedom being a bad thing wasn't good enough a reason for people to go on board the reform movement for women's rights.

That's true of most people. They don't want to lose what they have for a nebulous benefit for some group they don't know or care for. America has enlarged this concept of who is "us" and who is the "Other" but as we saw in DC recently, that needs some more work.

Specifically we can limit the utilitarian epistemology of knowing what is or is not going to happen with Mill's recommendations on the law. Did Mill, in fact, use the utilitarian model you speak of Grim to calculate the knowledge of what benefit or harm was from the law on women or did Mill use something else?

As for something else, we can reference what we ourselves believe and how we believe what we know to be true. We can't know that any law or revoking of law will benefit every woman. So we have to go to first principles, of a sort. A priori that must always be true. Building upon that, we can know what is true, even for the actions of those we aren't aware of.

There are some stereotypical social devices like the social compact or the US Bill of Rights or the Constitution that are the mechanisms by which bureaucrats or politicians decide what is or is not harmful. But all we have to decide is whether we should even have a Bill of Rights or not, not what goes in it.

Should women be removed of the laws forbidding them from owning, operating, or being employed in X, Y, and Z, or should the status quo be maintained because it has benefits to society and what not?

You can ask the same question of us here, in this time space. Except just flip things around. How do we know that feminist laws are hurting gender relations when we do not know every person of every gender. It is questions like that which we must answer and it is questions like that which can be answered without using utilitarian philosophy.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 11:40 AM

Fine. Now, the third question: how do I calculate that? If I'm to base my actions off of it, I need to have some way of knowing how to measure the happiness I'm creating or destroying: and not just for me, but for at least everyone I directly impact.

if I was attempting to negotiate something of this matter, what I would do is to find that which would benefit everyone, should they be willingly to abide by certain rules in order to allow everyone to benefit from the "action".

To be specific, I could not know if the US Constitution would benefit everyone. In fact, I'm pretty sure it WON'T benefit everyone, at least not equally. Some it will harm, for any number of reasons or factors out of my or the Constitution's control.

Yet, because the principle of the US Constitution benefits everyone, one can say that this is a special case. That it is, a priori, something that would benefit everyone by its simple existence. We don't have to do anything specific, like build something or fix something. Simply its existence would make people's lives better.

So it removes the matter from a calculation of "how much" benefit people would get and place it in terms of "does this benefit everyone more than this other choice benefits them".

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 11:51 AM

I'm deeply suspicious of a priori reasoning when applied to ethics. I prefer an empirical approach because it gets at the reality of the world, not what the 'truth must be' according to our head.

There's a scene in Howard Pyle's Robin Hood in which Robin Hood is seeking out Friar Tuck for the first time, and meets him by a river. Not knowing it is the same friar he wants to find, he asks whether Fountain Abbey (where Tuck lives) is on 'this side of the river, or the other side.'

Tuck answers that both sides are the other side, and proceeds to prove it using logical argumentation: roughly, "That side is the other side, but if I go to that side, then this side is the other side. Therefore, both sides are the other side. QED."

Indeed, that is analytic to the concept "other side." So, you can get to the conclusion by what Kant calls synthetic a priori reasoning.

However, the question that Robin Hood wanted answered was, "Where is Fountain Abbey?" Putting that question to Friar Tuck, he is told:

"That," quoth the Friar, "is a practical question upon which the cunning rules appertaining to logic touch not. I do advise thee to find that out by the aid of thine own five senses; sight, feeling, and what not."
That's good advice. When I hear someone talking about deriving ethical principles a priori, I reach for my buck knife (to paraphrase Edward Abbey).

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 12:01 PM

You'd definitely be a riot at the philosopher's get togethers.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 12:32 PM

I had such a get together the other night -- I joined some friends who are philosophers for dinner. The problem with relying too much on pure logic (or 'a priori' reasoning) is that you end up in foolish positions, because logic isn't what they want it to be. Logic is a tool, but it isn't a way of proving the truth: the world is bigger than us, and stronger than our logic.

So, for example, they were debating whether it was possible for their to be two different sufficient causes for an action. The argument was that it is not: if there are two causes, each of which would have been sufficient for the action, there was really only one of them that causes the action. (E.g., if I shoot someone at the same time that you stab them, and each wound was individually capable of killing the person, only one of us has 'really' killed them -- the other cause was wasted. But which one?)

I responded with a counterexample: say I go to the store to buy some ketchup, and when I arrive I find that my wife has come to the store separately also to buy some ketchup. So, we both get together and buy the one bottle of ketchup we need.

"In that case," one friend replied, "your wife's purchase of the ketchup means that only she, and not you, is buying the ketchup."

"That works the other way too," I pointed out. "Which means you've proven that no one bought any ketchup; yet there's going to be a bottle of ketchup at my house."

Everyone thought that was a great joke, but it does prove the point: when reason and experience come into conflict, go with experience.

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 12:39 PM

Don't forget problems such as this classic issue.

A) You start with a pile of sand.
and
B) You remove one grain
Then
C) What remains is still a pile of sand.

Now iterate this.

If the statement is true then you forced to conlude that a pile of sand may have 0 grains of sand in it.

If the statement is false, you must answer the question of why X grains is a pile but X-1 is not.

Formal logic is insufficient to such "fuzzy" tasks.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 28, 2010 03:01 PM

...deriving ethical principles a priori, I reach for my buck knife (to paraphrase Edward Abbey).
Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 12:01 PM
You'd definitely be a riot at the philosopher's get togethers.
Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 12:32 PM

Or at a Franciscans' Convention.

Posted by: BillT at April 28, 2010 03:17 PM

These logic chains are set up wrong.

(E.g., if I shoot someone at the same time that you stab them, and each wound was individually capable of killing the person, only one of us has 'really' killed them -- the other cause was wasted. But which one?)

That presupposes an exact time frame coupling. There is no a priori proposition that can logically define two instantaneous events that happen at the same time, but different space, relative perspective. One would necessarily have to acquire an a priori definition of an action. Something like that would be closer to the big bang than anything that can be observed right now. For one thing, it can't be observed with experience. So one can only define the two actions as something that happens at the same time, from all relative perspectives, to use it as an a priori foundation.

There is no such thing, however. Besides, it wouldn't be necessary for it to exist. It wouldn't be necessary because two actions that happen at the same time cause two different results. There's no need to define something as happening twice to produce different results, but at the same time. The result is determined by experience. It cannot be defined as a priori at the start. The definition of a result is how the first action creates a new reality by affecting various factors. This takes into account experience or reality, not a priori knowledge.

The definition of a wound is necessarily that it might or might not kill a person. The wound in itself would have to be all you knew to know whether someone died or not to make this an a priori proposition.

The whole issue of defining an action as a waste depending upon the retroactive relative perspective of the experimental "result" isn't a priori at all. Actions have consequences. To define an action as not having a consequence using experimental results would be inductive logic or a posteriori. It is sort of backwards from how it should be.

The argument was that it is not: if there are two causes, each of which would have been sufficient for the action, there was really only one of them that causes the action.

Two causes lead to two actions via the causality chain. In some respects they can cancel each other or affect each other, but that would still be two actions. Just two opposing actions. To eliminate one action entirely is to warp around the time-space frame as well as causality. To reverse causality, even, given a certain result.

Besides, once somebody talks about an action being sufficient to cause something to happen in the real world, they're talking about something very different from a priori.

Concerning the pile of sand vs grain of sand, those two propositions are not necessarily defined as one thing. A grain is only what a person can individually perceive with their naked eyes, which means it differs from person to person, world to world. Instead of being independent of experience, it actually requires experience to define it. A pile is either a horizontal effect of grains of sand (given that one cannot see the invisible) or a stacking effect of more than two grains (assuming visibility again). Thus the removal of one grain of sand can still leave a pile of sand, yet a pile of sand may not exist because there is only one grain of sand.

Because those two are not a priori, independent to experience in the real world, the logic falls apart because the foundation used to build it wasn't stable to begin with. If the first logical statement is fuzzy, the conclusion will erroneous.

I responded with a counterexample: say I go to the store to buy some ketchup, and when I arrive I find that my wife has come to the store separately also to buy some ketchup.

The fact that you saw your wife is why it isn't a priori to begin with. That is on top of all the other reasons why these things aren't examples of a priori.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 04:59 PM

effect of more than two grains (assuming visibility again).

That should be more than one grain, not two.

In terms of a priori, to remove various other definitions and observation factors, a pile of sand is defined as containing grains of sand. No grains of sand, no pile of sand.

Yet a grain of sand isn't necessarily defined by the concept of a pile of sand. To use a priori in this respect, it would not make the two somehow contradictory.

The logic works well in this respect and is still true. There are cases where logical propositions do not have a logic fault but yet experience shows that it is untrue. In those instances, it is often the case that a proposition or logic component was created by an a posteriori type statement.

All I see are white birds
I know of no bird that isn't white

All birds are white.

This is the kind of faulty logic that gets people into trouble because their initial premise isn't very solid to begin with, because it uses experience of the real world. Incomplete experience of the real world. As such, it is prone to being "disproven" not by logic but simply by "seeing a black bird".

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 28, 2010 05:08 PM

It's synthetic a priori, not analytic a priori. (There is some dispute as to whether synthetic a priori operations are legitimately a priori; but in ethics, synthetic is as close as you can get to a priori, since if you're merely in your own head there's little you're not permitted to do!)

Posted by: Grim at April 28, 2010 08:14 PM

I don't see any ethical propositions that you have presented, Grim.

The arguments concerning location, cause and effect, and simultaneous actions are more about metaphysics and what is real or what is known, then about what is Good or Evil.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 09:55 AM

That's because you're looking at a comment I made in response to your comment about how much fun I'd be at a party of philosophers; I was just relating a story of having fun at the last such party. That wasn't meant to be about ethics, just the kind of wild fun that philosophers have when they get together. :)

Posted by: Grim at April 29, 2010 10:10 AM

Concerning the synthetic propositions:

There's certain empirical evidence being used to justify including various components of the proposition. Meaning it is no longer the use of pure reason. Now we are getting to people's observations or the observations of other people telegraphed to the people making the propositions. They know such is true because of work in reality or the work of others.

Now there's some fundamental questions given that context. How does anyone know of two actions occurring simultaneously in two different spaces, yet only one will be real or have a consequence/effect? What is it they use to justify making this proposition: quantum mechanics, relativity, something else?

The logical argument you presented was to choose between whether two actions cause one effect or whether only one action, of the two, cause the effect. This entails that one action must necessarily be removed in the second option. The third potential logical option of two actions causing different effects/results, with only one action being necessary for the higher order result (death or ketchup) isn't presented.

I question what logical reason there is to constrain the options to this kind of limitation and how one can even gain experience of what the available options imply is real.

On a related topic,

I'm deeply suspicious of a priori reasoning when applied to ethics. I prefer an empirical approach because it gets at the reality of the world, not what the 'truth must be' according to our head.

You have presented Kant's synthetic a priori, along with ketchup/death/the meeting's synthetic a priori.

You had argued for an empirical approach. However, the synthetic a priori must use empirical approaches otherwise it would simply be analytic a priori.

Much of the fault in reasoning in Tuck's case and in your group's case, is because there's an attempt to find eternal truth from using relative perspectives and experiences. Obviously it seems apparent that when you try to do that, you get two truths at the same time.

It's not really workable to find what is or must be true in All Worlds, by looking at this one world or by looking through one person's perspective.

To do that, one must use a priori propositions without the use of empirical elements.

On the topic of ethics, it is a guide to the eternal truth by way of making sure human actions are always on the path to Good or Evil, no matter what short term consequences may be observed. If we simply said that people had to experience the consequence of an action to rule it ethical or not, then we have an issue called might makes right. So long as somebody wins, they become right. When they lose, and we experience that effect, they then become wrong.

Now obviously that's not an ethical model that is close to the truth. It is convenient, yes, but not close to the truth of Good or Evil.

On the other hand, ethics cannot be completely separated from the World, this world, and the real. It has to deal with humans, human nature, what exists now not what people wish existed, and so forth. That is a different issue from using a priori logic though, for that logic is not equivalent to ethics. It is simply a tools by which to define or work out certain elements that may be part of the foundation of ethics.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 10:12 AM

That wasn't meant to be about ethics, just the kind of wild fun that philosophers have when they get together.

Oh, I see. So that's what it was.

In that case, I would say the same about synthetic propositions, leaving out the party itself.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 10:13 AM

Personally, I can see why using synthetic a priori as a way to justify a certain ethical model would not be such an optimum usage.

For one thing, it tends to lead to what I said before, justice of the strong. Or even moral relativity of the Left's construction.

Replace Other Side with Good and Evil, juxtapose the definitions around, and then you have Good and Evil as a proposition that is true for some people but not other (perspectives).

That would make the ethical model not only useless as a guide for humans, but it would also make it self-serving as a tool for megalomania or sociopathy.

That, however, isn't an argument against the use of a priori.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 10:23 AM

"It's not really workable to find what is or must be true in All Worlds, by looking at this one world or by looking through one person's perspective. To do that, one must use a priori propositions without the use of empirical elements."

What you're talking about there is modality: questions of what is "necessary" or "possible" across multiple possible worlds. That's a significantly deeper topic than ethics, wherein it's fine if you can get it right in this world.

I won't go too far into this, because I think it's largely a waste of time given our state of knowledge about such things. However, I will explain why I think it's a waste.

S-5 is one of the languages that philosophers use to explore modality. In S-5 (as in S-4, another system included in S-5), if you know:

"It is possible that A,"

then you also know:

"It is possible that it is possible that A."

Perfectly logical! But in S-5, we can also go from:

"It is possible that A."

to:

"It is necessary that it is possible that A."

What that purports to mean is that I'm telling you something using logic about what is true in this world (it is possible that A) and also all possible world that are immediately accessible from this one.

However, S-5 works the other way too:

"It is possible that it is necessary that it is possible that it is necessary that it is necessary that A."

In theory, this is telling you about the conditions of worlds that are very far removed from being immediately accessible to this one. Yet in fact, S-5 collapses that to:

"It is necessary that A."

Which means we really only know something about that first jump. The rest is speculation; and actually, since we can't really look in the nearby possible worlds, or even be sure they exist, even that first jump is speculation. We don't actually know that the proposition is true: it may merely be 'possible that A.'

All we know is what it would mean for it to be true that 'it is necessary that A,' if there are indeed nearby possible worlds, and if they operate according to the same rules of logic that we have in this one.

Posted by: Grim at April 29, 2010 10:31 AM

Yet in fact, S-5 collapses that to:

"It is necessary that A."

I wrote that backwards. It collapses to, "It is possible that A." You can collapse to the last modal operator in the string.

Posted by: Grim at April 29, 2010 11:25 AM

I think some people's brains collapsed after that too, Grim.

Have you read the analytic a priori argument for God's existence? Numerous philosophers have attempted to refine it after the original set of propositions.

Link

That's a significantly deeper topic than ethics, wherein it's fine if you can get it right in this world.

Even with that, that still leaves the question of why you don't like the use of a priori arguments in ethics. It would be more accurate to say that you don't like the juxtaposition or combination of empirical senses with a priori propositions, where the propositions utilize empirical evidence.

Or would it be even more accurate to say that you don't agree with Kant's usage of transcendental reasoning in ethics?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 01:17 PM

"It is possible that it is necessary that it is possible that it is necessary that it is necessary that A."

I'm not sure if most people would be more frightened of not understanding that or actually understanding that ; )

I brought up the ontological arguments about God because the concept of necessary, All Worlds, and such were components used in such by some philosophers.

So it is something that I've seen applied to a real argument, which does make it easier to understand than something out of the blue.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 01:24 PM

Than if it had come out of the blue.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 01:26 PM

"Or would it be even more accurate to say that you don't agree with Kant's usage of transcendental reasoning in ethics?"

Closer to that.

I like the way Aristotle starts: by looking at the world, figuring out what people want, and examining what traits help them get it. What is admirable, what is excellent, what produces strength and honor?

The Kantian approach -- which gets substantially better if you look at his Metaphysics of Morals and Third Critique, and not just the Groundwork and Second Critique -- proposes something that seems to me both (a) preposterous, and (b) actually absent from his work. Basing the supreme principle on morality on reasoning done wholly in the head, without actually trying it out? Even in the Groundwork, where that is what he says he's doing, he almost immediately has to turn to empirical and anthropological facts about humanity even to reason. For example, why do we have a duty of beneficence? Kant offers two different articles, but they both end up being based on facts about human nature -- neither of them could apply to beings without that nature as he frames them.

Posted by: Grim at April 29, 2010 03:00 PM

You talk more about Kant than even Ayn Rand. Did you know that? ; )

Although I wish Ayn Rand would have brought up the specifics of Kant as you did. Generalities didn't do me much good in determining where she disagreed.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 04:16 PM

It's a very recent interest that I expect to pass in just a few more days. :) I'm about to finish a piece on the intersection of ethics and aesthetics in Kant, after which I doubt I will very often lift his books for the next few years. Still, it's been a worthwhile project.

Posted by: Grim at April 29, 2010 05:21 PM

Who or what are you writing this piece for?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 07:31 PM

Ah, well, that has to do with a dark and shameful personal secret of mine; I've been working on a Ph.D. in philosophy, in between wars and horse-breaking.

I trust you'll keep this secret with all due diligence.

Posted by: Grim at April 29, 2010 10:15 PM

Ah, soka. Wakada

Although I would only be shocked to hear you say you were studying for psychology or the law.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 30, 2010 10:55 AM

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